Psycho-medical emergencies, agitated-chaotic events, excited delirium syndrome; people under the influence of “bath salts,” suicidality and suicide by cop; or just plain disagreeable, angry, and resistant people; all cops agree that today’s officer faces unique challenges in communicating with and attempting to calm down people that officers twenty to thirty years ago rarely faced.
Recently, a new de-escalation training methodology was presented to law enforcement administrators, supervisors and field officers in Delaware and Wisconsin that the law enforcement participants agreed will become the training model for de-escalation training nationally. It is referred to as the “multidisciplinary de-escalation model.” The multi-disciplinary concept and instructor course were developed by nationally renowned forensic criminologist, Certified Medical Investigator and law enforcement practices expert Dr. Ron Martinelli. Dr. Martinelli, is a retired police officer and detective with the San Jose (CA) Police Department, that developed a Field Training Program that has been become a national model for police agencies since the mid-1970s. A total of twenty-three Delaware and six Wisconsin law enforcement agencies attended this training in two separate sessions. The importance of this level of training for police officers nationally was underscored by Robert Cope, Secretary of the DE Department of Safety and Homeland Security and Chief William Bryson, Chair of the DE Police Chief’s Council who introduced the course and instructor to the attendees.
The multi-disciplinary de-escalation model identifies several components of de-escalation to include: pre-contact threat assessment, officer safety, psychophysiology and tactical communications. Officer-instructors are trained to utilize a proactive response protocol for psycho-medical emergencies that incorporates a pre-contact threat assessment phase and a subject assessment and evaluation phase to deal with subjects who exhibit every problem from acute mental health disorders, medical emergencies, and drug influence; to suicidality and choreographing a “suicide-by-cop” death act.
In Dr. Martinelli’s class, instructor candidates receive in-depth information on psychophysiology and how the brain and body either work together, or dysfunction while under the influence of survival chemicals such as adrenalin, endorphins and dopamine while under intense stress.
Cops are not board-certified physician’s or psychiatrists who diagnose; so, in class, they learn how to evaluate and assess various basic psychosis and psycho-medical emergencies such as agitated-chaotic events, decompensation from not taking their psychotropic medications; overdosing on medications, being under the influence of synthetic cannabinoids; metabolic disorders, viral infections, hyperthermia, dementia, Alzheimer’s, autism and suicidal ideations.
Officers are taught that when responding to and addressing psycho-medical emergencies, once officer and citizen safety concerns are addressed, the focus should be on treating the subject as needing immediate medical intervention, rather than a suspect who needs to be arrested. Officers are trained that the de-escalation protocol begins with the dispatcher, who should have the latitude to immediately contact and dispatch Emergency Medical Services to a staging location nearby so they can be immediately available to medically intervene with a powerful sedative once the subject in question has been captured, controlled and restrained by police.
Officer safety and pre-contact threat assessment of a bizarre acting, resistant and/or threatening subject during an encounter prior to communicating with them are critical components of de-escalation. During the instructor and end-user de-escalation classes, officers learn such human factors concepts as action-reaction perception lag time and the “reactionary gap” formula of distance versus reaction time. Dr. Martinelli’s new human factors research in dispelling the outmoded “21-Foot Rule” is discussed and demonstrated with participants being introduced to the safer and the more efficient “Gun Assault Positioning” or GAP distance technique. The GAP technique provides responding officers with skills to better assess distances between themselves and high-risk subjects; while avoiding deadly confrontations when they or the involved subject compresses distance and time such as when suicidal subjects attempt to force officers to shoot and kill them during suicide-by-cop incidents.
Participants in both the instructor and end-user de-escalation courses learn various verbal and non-verbal communication skills that have historically proven to be the most successful when dealing with a variety of verbally non-compliant, hostile, mentally or chemically unbalanced subjects. They are taught that the voice and body language must always be in harmony. Early in the classes, officers are taught the concept of officer “emotional capture” and to always have a studied, rather than an emotional response to verbal non-compliance, posturing, anger and hostility. They are also taught how to assess non-verbal threatening gestures which are pre-assault indicators.
On the second day of instructor certification training, participants undergo competency testing which consists of a battery of written and performance scenarios. Instructor candidates are divided up into role players and officer and supervisor responders, are briefed on their roles and cycled through a variety of increasingly challenging scenarios. To maintain the realism of the scenario practical’s, all the scripts used have been taken directly from actual past officer-involved cases that were previously adjudicated and documented from federal and state litigation that Dr. Martinelli has personally worked on.
De-escalation instructor candidates quickly learn that de-escalation and force response are a thinking man’s game that require careful consideration as to what non-force and force techniques, tactics and/or weaponry are available to them based upon the unique challenges of each circumstance with a non-compliant, mentally or medically incapacitated, or potentially violent subject they encounter. Instructor candidates learn that they must become chameleons who quickly improvise effective strategies that adapt to rapidly evolving situations to overcome resistance, generate voluntary compliance; or in the case of serious, dynamic and high-risk psycho-medical emergencies and/or violent subjects; to expeditiously capture, control, restrain and medically sedate the involved subject.
From the time that instructor candidates first enter the classroom, the concept that they are transitioning in their mindset to become lifesavers is impressed upon them. The multi-disciplinary de-escalation methodology stresses that saving officer and subject lives is paramount in their encounter objective. The incident response protocol, subject assessment/evaluation, flexibility in strategy, officer safety and issues of preclusion and what happens when words fail are reinforced in the debriefings conducted at every station once the scenario has ended. Involved subject role players provide insight into whether the situation was handled appropriately, or whether alternate strategies might have worked better. Chiefs and field supervisors are used to reinforce department policies and mission statements. Chiefs also get a unique look at the changing and high-risk field environment their officers are working in today. Dr. Martinelli also provides insight as to how plaintiff attorneys might seek to attack officers for their actions and lends important tips on strategy, report writing and testimony.
This De-escalation Instructor Course is designed to be a de-escalation force multiplier that can create a cadre of specially trained de-escalation instructors who return to their agencies to train other officers and supervisors in a faster and more cost-effective manner, prior to receiving the more intensive and important Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training which takes officers out of the field for longer periods of time.
Oceanview, DE Police Chief Kenneth McLaughlin, who sponsored and attended the De-escalation Instructor Course mandates that all his officers complete a minimum of 40 hours of de-escalation training which also incorporates Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). He states that well-rounded de-escalation techniques can help reduce the need for force in potentially dangerous situations involving people who are experiencing a mental health crisis. However, he also adds that because incidents can evolve and escalate quickly where officers don’t always have an opportunity to disengage or de-escalate; incorporating the officer safety and use of force components are critical in this type of training. Chief McLaughlin rated the instructor course methodology, materials and presentation as excellent.
The De-escalation Instructor Course provides a highly successful, important foundational multidisciplinary methodology for a national de-escalation training model that provides consistent skill set training for all officers, no matter where they police in the United States.
“Excellent training. Dr. Martinelli’s extensive experience as an officer, detective and forensic investigator is a perfect marriage of competency to bring this class together.” Dep. Director, Delaware Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement.
“Excellent course. Very user-friendly for all law enforcement persons.” Chief Spcl. Investigator, DE State Department of Justice
“Outstanding training and teaching techniques in the art of de-escalation.” Chief Bruce Von Goerres, Ellendale PD, DE
“I really enjoyed learning about how to evaluate and assess subjects in preparation for de-escalation. Excellent training.” Chief David Baylor, Delaware City PD, DE
Addendum – With the advent of COVID-19 and new social distancing requirements, Dr. Martinelli’s online training company ETCforensic.com offers an end-user officer de-escalation course that can be accessed using any computer or Smart device. A 16-hour blended-study course for instructors involving both online and practical training is also now available. Contact ETCforensic.com via the Internet or at (830) 331-2351 for more information.
Ron Martinelli, Ph.D., CMI-V, is a nationally renowned forensic criminologist who is a Certified Medical Investigator and Federal/State Courts police expert. Dr. Martinelli, is a retired detective with the San Jose (CA) Police Department and a current forensics and law enforcement expert for the U.S. Department of Justice. He can be reached at [email protected].
Editor’s note: Dr. Ron Martinelli is also the author of a best-seller, The Truth Behind the Black Lives Matter Movement and the War on Police, which was recently pulled from Amazon, among other places. If you’d like to discern fact from fiction regarding a movement that is bucking law enforcement at every turn, this is the source. Order here.